If love is your goal, learn to love yourself first. Understand that you will never find peace through someone else, because peace comes from learning trust, understanding, and love within yourself first.
If people treated you like an option, leave them like a choice. – unknown.
I was walking down the Istiklal Street in Taksim, on my way to pick up my son from a birthday party when I strolled past this tiny bookstore, opposite the Old Tunnel Station. What caught my eye was not how tiny and cozy this bookstore was but this fat cat, lazing on its stomach in front of the window display, staring at it. I followed my gaze towards what the cat was staring at, and the book, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, jumped out. Maybe it was the orange cover (orange is one of my favourite colour) that dazzled me, or maybe because I have been pulling out the Alchemist card the past few days when I was practicing my reading. A voice nudged me inside. That was how I ended up bringing the book home.
Like the protagonist in the book, The Boy set off in search of his treasure in Egypt, as foretold in his recurring dreams, while I set off to Turkey, in search of God and my purpose, following a recurring dream, which foretold my destiny lies in Turkey. Why do I believe in my dreams? Because they foretold my future. And so I left Singapore with faith.
Needless to say, I was feeling lost before I came to Turkey, and extremely unhappy with my life. I had promised myself if my relationship failed, I will move aboard and it failed the following year – my ex dumped me because I was not docile enough for him. Two years later, I left Singapore for good.
The main reason for my departure was not my ex. He was just a convenient excuse for me to move my butt into the unknown. The main reason was I couldn’t comprehend what I had done to incur the wrath of my mother. For the whole of my childhood, I couldn’t remember any time she had ever hugged me, much less praised me. Growing up, I saw my mother as the Sun, but no matter how hard I tried, I was never under the Sun. She never smiled at me or talked to me. I was constantly told to shut up because “my voice was hurting her ears”. And so I did what I do best – study. And got myself into a prestigious school. I thought I had done her proud, but the demand was constant. I never hang her clothes the right way; if I didn’t do the dishes immediately after dinner, I would get complained to my grandmother who would began another series of lecture as to why I should help my poor mother; when I fell ill, my father was the one who brought me to the doctors; once I was so sick, I couldn’t get out of bed and yet my mother accused me of faking it and left with the whole family to my grandmother’s. I was left in the dark house all by myself without dinner that evening. I was simply too sick to even get up to switch on the lights; when my parents quarreled and my father didn’t returned home, my mother yelled at me and accused me of being the one who would cause her divorce (my father disappeared for almost two years but he told me the main reason was my mother insulted him). I stayed away from home as much as possible. In school, I was the cheerful, talkative girl, but at home, I was the mute. Even friends who came over to play noticed. One particular friend was so spooked by my mother, she stayed away from my house, and me (years after I moved to Turkey, only then she confessed why she stayed away was because she couldn’t comprehend why my mother loathed me with all her soul). Since I couldn’t get myself married to get away from home, I figured by putting the distance between us may do us wonders. It did us wonder, but not in the happy ending sense.
Yes, I was the scapegoat child.
The cultural myths about mothers would not allow us to have other notions besides all mothers are loving and instinctively nurturing. No one believed me. “You are too sensitive“, I was often told. Everyone believes all mothers love each of their children equally. No one believed my story. My ex even commented when he dumped me, “perhaps you were harder to love, perhaps you were the devil to have caused your mother to reject you, her daughter!” I have a hard time struggling with my self-esteem. No one believed me.
Except my grandmother.
My grandmother took care of me until the age of 9, when I was forced back home. My mother deemed my grandmother unfit to parent me. I was afterall, her weekend child and I avoided my mother as much as possible. Even at the tender age of 9, I started showing signs of distress whenever I had to go to my parents for the weekend. My grandmother knew me as the mature kid, the old soul, the sweet kid who needs no parenting, who would automatically do my own homework and put away my books and toys before the day was up. So imagine my grandmother’s horror when she started hearing horror stories of me from my mother. Thus started my weekly lecture on how I should behave. Until one day, my grandmother started asking my side of the story, that was when the whole truth spilled out – I didn’t do whatever imagined accusations my mother made up and has been the one who did the family dishes and household chores since age 10 every single night (according to my mother, I never helped out and she had totally exhausted herself because I was simply selfish). It dawned unto my grandmother, and me, that my mother has been spreading lies about me. But I was 12, and helpless. And so my grandmother planted that first seed – “when you grow up, move as far away from your mother as possible.” That’s how I knew, I am fighting a no-win battle. Every night, I prayed to God to let me die and cried myself to sleep at night. I was dying inside.
According to Peg Streep, Parental Differential Treatment is very common, it even has its own acronym, PDT. The reasons a parent favours one child over another could be as simple as “goodness of fit” – the degree to which a child’s personality fits a mother’s own. Studies also show that the child’s developmental stage may also spur differential treatment; for example, a more authoritarian mother may be more comfortable parenting a younger child as compared to an older one who talks back and challenges her.
Perhaps this was my case. My sister and brother are favoured over me. This went on for a few more years until it got so obvious that my sister once asked my mother why was I treated so differently (that is, badly) even though all of us are her own flesh and blood. My mother refused to answer. From that day, my life turned even more hellish. I slowly realized whoever was close to me will ultimately cursed me or got angry with me, all for the same reason – I had caused my mother grief. But I had no idea what I had done.
My brother yelled loudly and told my mother not to pass me her old handphone, and called me the stranger, when she was due for a new handphone (her subscription plan allows her to get a new phone every two years). My brother protested when my family moved house and later found out my father allowed me to move in with them and into his room on the second floor while he had to move into the room on the first floor; he started yelling and arguing with my father over why he had to give in to me. My sister told me to move out because I was causing obvious grief to my mother, even though even she couldn’t understand what I had done to cause her rage. My mother docked my pay because she felt I was not motivated enough (even though, I had asked her to teach me the family business but she kept brushing me off, saying “can’t you see I am busy?”. Every single fucking day. In the end, all I did was shifted the papers into the files, vacuumed the floor and washed the cups. When it comes to pay day, my salary was cut to half because her royal highness decided I did not deserve that much money as I didn’t come to ask her enough?!). When my father got angry, I was the first to be blamed for his anger. I hadn’t had dinner for a month because my mother punished me by excluding me out on dinners. No matter what I do, I was always in the wrong. That was the last straw. I sank deep into depression – I slept in the day and woke up at night. Some days, I forgot to eat. That’s when a friend drove over to my house every afternoon to make sure I eat and pulled me out for some fresh air. And my mother hated this friend who became my only pillar of support.
The Turning Point
Out one night with this friend, lying on top of a children’s playground at the park, I could see the stars that night. I remembered the times when I accompanied my father to his morning visits to the temple and his stories of the stars in the sky. After that, I had a dream that I would be moving to Turkey. Dreams are the language of God. It’s the possibility if having a dream come true that makes life interesting. I was thinking perhaps my destiny lies in Turkey. It took two years but I finally moved. Of course, it caused a huge uproar and disapproval from my mother. For my whole life, I was searching for the truth. The truth to why my mother rejected me from birth. And it brought me to learn and earn my degree in psychology, to learn the world’s religions, to learn about past lives and reincarnation. When none could satisfy my search, I followed my dreams and move aboard.
But moving didn’t provide closure. In my 11 years in Turkey, I was nowhere near what I wanted to be: I married an abusive husband who carried on his abuse, just like the way my mother did except this is more physically abusive; I was broke and still financially dependent on my parents; I wished to die but wondered if my husband would beat me to death. I couldn’t see I was repeating the same pattern of abuse I sustained in my childhood.
It changed when I gave birth to my son.
Having a child made me realized what a mother should be. That my mother was not the loving mother I had imagined her to be. That it was wishful thinking – wishful thinking that if I do a bit more bidding, I would win her love this time; that if I were to give in more, my husband would not turn to drugs and alcohol and we could finally have our happy endings. Being a mother woke me up to reality. Rudely awoken to the realization that my reality was pure shit. This is not the environment I want my son to grow up in. Being a mother kicked in my instincts to protect. Since I can’t or haven’t learn to protect myself, that instinct to protect my son proved useful in propelling me to change. So I moved out and got a divorce.
In life, not all relationships will flourish. It take a lot of courage to recognize that and to move on from toxic relationships, or those that don’t contribute to your growth or well-being. To cut out my ex husband is easy because he is abusive and toxic. To cut out friends who demeaned me or threatened me takes a bit of work, some psychological counselling and a few years, but I am cutting out friends and companies I used to work in who couldn’t contribute to my well-being. But what if that toxic relationship is your mother? That was my litmus test.
The realization that my mother is toxic took place on the chair of my psychologist. I was treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from my previous marriage but was stunned to find out it actually stemmed from my childhood. That was the hardest therapy I had to go through. I wasn’t ready to deal with my almost forgotten childhood and so I quit. I continued going back to my mother but was unable to live with her for more than a week before I started running back to Turkey. I kept her at a distance. But I was still hopeful that perhaps, I could still win a place in the Sun. This went on for two years. And each time, after talking to my mother, I would be a total wreak for a few weeks, before I could even recover any shreds of sanity. Yes I was that naive.
Closure was never certain. I could not tell if I should commit to reviving the relationship or begin the process of moving on. Sometimes I wanted it to be final so I could recover from the mental abuse and create a new life where self-loathing would be replaced with self-love. It took me so many years and only recently I finally accepted that perhaps my mother has narcissistic personality disorders and to stop carrying her blame by myself.
We only accept a truth after we have wholeheartedly rejected it.
Just when I was running out of ways to self-destruct, I hit a new bottom. My mother, in trying to get me out of Turkey, proposed to buy a house in Australia. For me? She has used that ploy before by telling me she had gotten me a house in Singapore which in fact, the actual house materialized but I was never given a chance to move in. It was given to my brother and subsequently, my mother took over. What can I do in Australia? How will my son adapt? I asked but my mother would simply brushed off with a reply, “we will see”.
“We will see” doesn’t cut out for me. It means uprooting to some place I have never been to. My son had just adjusted very well to his school and his environment, I have no wish to rock the boat. I was aiming for stability and stability to us means, a home we can call our own. My father had promised to help me with the downpayment for a house but he had passed on before he could fulfilled his promise. And so my mother did the same promise and I held onto the hope for the next three years. Until the day she told me she bought my sister a new Mercedes and I later found out the cost could easily translate into two-three apartments in Turkey. And my mother flaunted her generosity towards my siblings and my cousins, and rubbed it in my face. Like, she would buy an electric lunchbox for my sister while telling me my sister didn’t use it. And all I got was a set of cutlery that came with the lunchbox. I couldn’t understand why she was telling me or giving me that.
Closure came in the form of a lawyer telling me I couldn’t inherit anything from my father and my mother telling me “her priorities are towards my brother and sister”. I screamed at her (or did I?), “her priorities were always with my brother and sister”. I always felt she favours my siblings over me but to hear those words out loud is beyond words that could convey my despair. I felt nausea. Ironically, my mother helped me achieve the type of closure I have been searching for and upon hearing those words, I fully accepted I could never hope for a space under the Sun. I deleted and blocked her number and all the numbers of my family. I am truly alone this time and determined to go alone. That was six months ago.
That night, I had a dream – I dreamt of filling up my cup from the tap but the water was full of worms. And so I emptied it over and over until I got clear portable water from the tap. I drank that cup of crystal clear water, it was refreshing. It was a sign of regeneration and a new life.
I began the life-long process of retraining my brain, engaging in self-love and self-care. Giving myself what I needed when others couldn’t. I needed to fill myself with the clear drinkable water. Finally I was able to get myself to a place where I understood and accepted my (lack of) relationship with my mother. Some days it comes easier, there are days where I want to dwell how much my life sucks. On such tough days, I am learning to go inward. I go to church every Tuesday and pray. I count my blessings and am grateful for the peace I have now. I lit a candle for the guy who kept coming into my dreams and remembered to lit one candle for myself. When I give to others, I am also learning to give to myself. I pray for others, I will also pray for myself. I remind and congratulated myself on how far I have come.
In the book, The Alchemist, the author wrote “in order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that He left for you. Everything in life is an omen.” I left Singapore on the faith of my recurring dreams that my destiny lies in Turkey. Recently, I spotted a dragonfly outside my house (which is not possible since I don’t live anywhere near a pond or any body of water) and a bee rested on my chest. They are good omens. That’s how I know I am in good hands.